Remarks on Georgian-Adzharian conflict by Duma’s Kosachev…

Official Kremlin Int’l News Broadcast
March 16, 2004 Tuesday


Anchor: I am Ksenia Larina. Our guests are State Duma Committee for
Foreign Affairs Chairman Konstantin Kosachev. Good day, Konstantin.

Kosachev: Good day.

Anchor: And Tengiz Kitovani, a former Defense Minister of Georgia.
Good day, Tengiz.

Kitovani: Good day.

Anchor: I guess you all understand what issue we are going to discuss
now. It certainly is the conflict between Georgia — shall I say,
between official Georgia and its autonomous region that is called
Adzharia. Many experts say that this confrontation may develop into a
real civil war. So, let us discuss this today.

To begin with, I would like to ask our guests to express their views
on these developments, the main causes and how natural this conflict
is for you. Tengiz, you will begin.

Kitovani: This dates back to the times of Gamsakhurdia and his
appointment of Aslan Abashidze. The whole of Georgia was against
that. But Gamsakhurdia made a decision to appoint him chairman of the
Council of Ministers in Adzharia. And he also appointed Ardzinba. So,
the separatist movement goes a long way back into the times when
Gamsakhurdia made these appointments.

So apparently the separatist movement evolved with the support of
some separatist-minded politicians. As a result, we have today what
we have. The appointment of Saakashvili, it became immediately
obvious after this appointment that separatists ran away to Moscow in
search of asylum, from South Ossetia, Adzharia and Abkhazia. Aslan
Abashidze was among them. So apparently this scenario had been
prepared here.

Anchor: Do you mean here in Russia?

Kitovani: Of course, because that’s how things are developing now.
Russia supports Aslan Abashidze, and the Americans support
Saakashvili. Aslan Abashidze must not have been supported because
presidential politicians consider him a criminal. Under Gamsakhurdia
he shot in his own office a man who was in power at that time. I want
you to know this. He killed a man and remained in his office for 10
more years unpunished.

Anchor: He killed a person in his own office?

Kitovani: He did. He shot him dead in his own office. The man’s name
was Imnadze. I can tell you a lot of things.

Anchor: I want to turn the floor over to Konstantin Kosachev, who has
been smiling all this time.

Kosachev: Well, no, I haven’t been smiling because the situation is
developing in a tragic way and, God forbid, may come to a bloodshed.
There is nothing to laugh about.

But I cannot agree with such a one-sided assessment of the situation.
First of all, I think that not only and not so much Gamsakhurdia is
responsible for this situation. On the one hand, it has deep
historical roots. On the other hand, it existed and was not resolved
during Shevardnadze’s rule.

Second, I am absolutely convinced that if Russia were interested in
disintegrating Georgia and separating ethnic regions from it, it
would have done so a long time ago. Believe me, Russia can do that,
given the current sentiments in these ethnic regions. However,
Russia’s consistent position in favor of Georgia’s territorial
integrity, which we have repeatedly emphasized, has allowed Georgia
to remain as an integral state and not fall into feudal

Third, when contacts with Russian officials take place in these
capitals, and I know what I am saying and I know what is discussed at
such negotiations, the only goal that Russia pursues in the context
of such negotiations is to convince the leadership of the concerned
ethnic regions to continue the political dialogue with Tbilisi,
refrain from unilateral radical actions based on force, and look for
compromises that can help Georgia remain as an integral state for
years and even centuries.

That is our main national interest for Russia — preserving Georgia
as an integral state, because Georgia’s disintegration into small
components will have an immediate and most negative impact on the
situation in the Caucasus where unfortunately we have enough problems
as it is.

Anchor: Is the President empowered to use force if at stake is a part
of the country that he is running or he isn’t?

Kosachev: Theoretically, he is empowered because this is part of
Georgia. As far as I understand, the leadership of Adzharia is not
saying that Adzharia is not part of Georgia. It has recognized that,
thank God. By the way, the parliamentary elections due to be held in
Georgia on March 28 will also be held on the territory of Adzharia,
which is a sign of the position of the present leadership of

It is another question that any president — and I am sure that Mr.
Saakashvili is a wise President — should look for, if not the
shortest, the optimal ways toward this or that goal. And I am sure
that the use of force in conflicts of this kind will not bring the
coveted goal of a compromise any nearer, on the contrary, it will
make it more remote. This is what we are witnessing now. What is
happening before our eyes has again provoked emotions on both sides.

Let us think back to February 25 the day of inauguration of the
Georgian President when they stood shoulder to shoulder with the
President or, properly speaking, the Chairman of Adzharia, Mr.
Abashidze. They were standing together reviewing the military parade.
And I am sure that a Russian heart rejoices at such a picture. And
now, just three weeks on, we see the absolute opposite.

Why is it happening? I suspect that it should all be traced to the
March 28 elections. President Saakashvili is up against daunting
problems that face Georgia. First of all, problems of economic
character — rampant corruption and an industry that is at a
standstill. I am afraid that no miracles will happen in the Georgian
economy by March 28, much as we would all like it to happen.

And that generates the temptation of a small victorious military
operation that will enable the President of the whole of Georgia to
look like a credible national leader. I think such actions are
extremely dangerous and undesirable.

Anchor: Tengiz, to pick up where Konstantin Kosachev left off, a
question to you. Is military force the only solution at present?

Kitovani: I agree that the question cannot be solved by military
force. That would mean civil war. This is not an option. The parties
should agree peacefully. But at the same time I must be critical of
those who are setting up a blockade inside their own country. This is
not the way to act. Naturally, it will lead to a military
confrontation. You know that both Armenia and Georgia get cargoes
from Batumi. Everybody knows that. And the Armenians will get angry
because the cargoes delivered to Batumi are destined for Armenia.

Armenia will demand the opening of ports. And that becomes a vicious
circle. So, I am against any confrontations on the territory of

Anchor: Let us recall that Mr. Abashidze had turned for help to
Russia and to President Bush. And I would like Tengiz to answer my
question: How do you assess these remarks by the Adzharian leader?
And my second question: Should Russia interfere in this conflict to
some degree?

Kitovani: I think Russia should interfere if a conflict situation
arises. Russia should defuse the situation that obtains in Georgia
which is at war with its own people. Russia cannot do it as it could
be done when the arrival of Ivanov defused the situation during the
presidential election. So, I would be glad to welcome Russian
representatives who would follow this path.

Anchor: Should Russia support one or the other side in this conflict?

Kitovani: Russian policy must play this main role — and I have
always spoken about it — Russia should defuse the situation that is
becoming more and more tense in Georgia. The Russian President can do
it, he can do it.

Anchor: And the fact that Luzhkov has gone there, what does it mean?

Kitovani: Well, Luzhkov went to see his friend. They have long been

Anchor: So, you consider it to be a private visit?

Kitovani: Yes, a private visit, I think. Luzhkov cannot resolve this
issue, he went to see Abashidze as his friend.

Anchor: Well, I for one, find it rather strange: the mayor of Moscow,
the mayor of the capital of the Russian state, pays a private visit
to Adzharia at the peak of the conflict between two opposing forces.
Do you really think it is just a private visit?

Kitovani: Well, Luzhkov does have an interest because Luzhkov is
building some kind of dachas in Adzharia for Moscow. That much I
know. And of course, Luzhkov wouldn’t like the money to be lost,
Moscow’s money with which he is building something in the outskirts
of Batumi.

Anchor: The same question to Konstantin Kosachev, regarding Russian
participation in this conflict. How do you see Russian participation
in this?

Kosachev: First, I know exactly what Russia must not do in this
situation. We must not use our military capability in the shape of
our base in Batumi, on no account. Secondly, we must not use economic
levers, whether with regard to Tbilisi or Batumi in order to induce
the conflicting parties to strike a compromise. And thirdly, we must
not tap the potential of our own diaspora, and there are a lot of
people in Adzharia with Russian passports, to influence the
situation. And as to what we must do, and here I absolutely agree
with Mr. Kitovani, we must made maximum use of the political resource
which Russia has and which in my opinion is unique compared to the
resources of the United States or of the European Union.

We are equally reliable partners and allies now for Tbilisi and
Batumi. We enjoy the trust of both sides. I think it is hardly
feasible to line-up a certain living shield on the administrative
frontier and to send our politicians there or our heads of Russian
regions, and I think that indeed Mr. Luzhkov in this case is acting
on his own initiative rather than upon someone’s instruction from

Incidentally, in Adzharia now, according to media reports, there
already are appearing some State Duma deputies. Here I would like to

Anchor: Alksnis is there and Savelyev.

Kosachev: I will stress that it is their private trips and again
there are no decisions of the State Duma taken to send its
representatives there. So, the deputies are there on their own
initiative as physical persons and citizens of Russia and not as Duma
deputies. Of course, it is impossible for Russia to stay away from
the conflict. I suspect that if the blockade of Adzharia continues,
Russia will have to organize some activities to simply help the

Anchor: To provide humanitarian aid.

Kosachev: Humanitarian assistance will have to be provided as we are
doing it in the case of Abkhazia and in some of the episodes — with
South Ossetia. That is why I constantly say that now any radical
actions of either side are equally harmful. When the cortege
accompanying Mr. Saakashvili, was stopped at the administrative
border, this was also a radical action on the part of the Adzharian
leadership which also added a spark to ignite the fire. It is
probably possible to find some more flexible variants of actions, to
let in the official part of the cortege and to cut off the armed
guards. So, it was wrong to say that no matter who you are, president
or no president, the road is closed. Now it is also wrong to close
the air space, the port of Batumi and to threaten the closure of the
checkpoint in Sarpi on the border with Turkey. All these actions are
kind of links being added to one chain that may close and form a
vicious circle and of course Tbilisi and Batumi will not be able to
break that vicious circle. And here arises the role to be played by
Russia and I am positive that it will be constructive.

Anchor: And if Abashidze asks for military assistance?

Kosachev: Categorically no, I am profoundly convinced.

Anchor: Tengiz, and what does the head of Adzharia have today and I
am asking you about some military structures that he has?

Kitovani: Naturally, he places hopes on the Russian division which is
stationed there. But will the Russians comply with the request? Now,
Abashidze is asking assistance from those divisions that are
stationed in Batumi. This is the main role and incidentally, this is
the talk that Abashidze is using about seeking assistance from the
division stationed in Batumi.

Anchor: But does he have his own army?

Kitovani: Allegedly, there is the division manned by Georgian
soldiers — but this is nonsense, fairy-tales and the talk of the
child. But the only danger is coming from the side and it is correct
to close the Turkish borders because the Turks may take advantage of
the conflict. Under the agreements of 1920s, it is clearly stated
that Turkey has the right to enter the territory of Adzharia.

Kosachev: But the agreement is not valid, it no longer has any

Kitovani: It is valid. But if they enter, it will be late. Now all
the documents are being studied because it is necessary to take a
look at the agreement and so on. Then they will raise what was signed
at the Istanbul summit. The withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia
is not being complied with either. But it was written on paper and it
remains on paper.

Kosachev: Just a minute…

Kitowani: I will finish my thought. It stays on paper and those who
write, they execute.

Kosachev: I will take issue with that. It is because the Istanbul
accords contain a bilateral protocol between Russia and Georgia on
withdrawing by 2002 two bases — Vaziani and Gudauty — and it is to
be executed by 2002 and in regard to the bases in Akhalkalaki and
Batumi, agreement was registered to the effect that the parties will
decide on the format of the functioning of the bases on Georgia’s
territory. I ask you to refresh these documents in your memory.

As long as these bases are undesirable for Georgia, and now they are
definitely undesirable for Georgia, they are subject to withdrawal.
Russia does not challenge this and these bases will be taken away
from the territory of Georgia, including the base in Batumi, within
deadlines to be agreed by the parties.

Anchor: We don’t have much time left. Of course, we want to talk a
little about your forecasts — the worst case scenario and the best
scenario. If it is the worst case scenario, how will the events
develop. Konstantin, what do you think?

Kosachev: The worst-case scenario is the replay of Abkhasian variant
of 1992-1993 when armed units clash and these clashes quickly
develops into a civil war that involves pensioners and children.

Given the short temper of the confronting factions, and as far as I
understand, and if I am wrong, please correct me, mainly Georgians
live in Adzharia, at least they say that they are Georgians but of a
somewhat different type — so, given the short- tempered Georgian
character on both sides, neither will concede, and all this will go
on, resulting in flows of blood and heavy casualties only to end the
same way as the conflict in Abkhazia ended where the sides had
realized the pointlessness of using force any further and returned to
their places on different sides of the barricade. That’s the most
terrible scenario that may happen. It is absolutely senseless and it
will only inflict a new deep wound upon the efforts to resolve the
conflict by political means and preserve Georgia’s territorial

Anchor: Tengiz.

Kitovani: I want all this to end peacefully. And I think it will. I
will travel to Tbilisi shortly to convince the sides to resolve the
whole thing peacefully with the help of Russia and America. The only
way out of this is to end this peacefully.

Mr. Saakashvili will have to make some concessions to Abashidze at
this point because otherwise Georgians will have to pay a dear price
and face grave consequences.

Kosachev: I hope and I am convinced that Mr. Saakashvili will have
enough political wisdom, restraint and strategic vision to try to
solve all of Georgia’s problems, including the Adzharian problem, at
one strike for a certain political or historical occasion.

Anchor: Tengiz, you said in the beginning that Abashidze is a
criminal. Then why don’t authorities simply arrest him and get it
over and done with?

Kitovani: You know, that’s exactly what he is afraid of. He is afraid
of this because it has been said several times on Tbilisi’s
television that he killed Imnadze in the 1990s under Gamsakhurdia.
So, he is simply afraid of all of this because he is a very careful
person. I know him very well. Tbilisi considers him a criminal for
killing Imnadze. Perhaps Muscovites do not know about this, but
Tbilisi’s television carries a lot of reports about this murder.
Imnadze’s daughter also often appears on television and she actually
witnessed the murder of her father.

Kosachev: If Mr. Saakashvili is aware of this fact, it’s very strange
that during the inauguration ceremony in Batumi on February 25 he was
standing shoulder to shoulder with this man. So, I think that the
situation is not as simple as that.

Kitovani: It’s a fact and it occurred in 1991. The daughter and
mother were arrested in Kutaisi and I liberated them because the
roads were blocked as they were seeking to get rid of the witnesses.
I got them out of there and took them to Tbilisi with a police escort
to make sure they didn’t get killed on the way. That’s what happened.

Anchor: Unfortunately we have run out of time. Obviously this topic
will be among the main news for a long time. We all want the
situation to be resolved peacefully. Our guests, Tengiz Kitovani and
Konstantin Kosachev, wish that too. I thank you for coming here
From: Baghdasarian